Flutist Jeremy Steig died on April 13 at his home in Japan. He was 73. His death was confirmed days after the fact.
“He didn’t like to read about musicians’ deaths in newspaper obituaries,” his wife Asako told The New York Times. “He wanted me to delay the announcement of his death, so that it wouldn’t really be ‘news’ to be written up.”
Unlike most jazz flutists, Steig (pictured circa 1965) did not make his instrument secondary to the saxophone; he devoted himself solely to the flute. He first recorded in 1963 with Flute Fever on Columbia Records. The album also introduced another musician destined to be a major jazz artist. From a 2006 Rifftides review:
Steig, son of the brilliant cartoonist William Steig, was, and is, a flutist of audacity, force and humor. Flute Fever was his debut recording, as it was for his pianist, a young medical student named Denny Zeitlin. On the Sonny Rollins composition “Oleo,” each of them solos with ferocious thrust, chutzpah, swing and—one of the most challenging accomplishments in jazz—a feeling of delirious freedom within the discipline of a harmonic structure. The structure in question—the chord pattern of “I Got Rhythm”—is one of the most flexible in jazz apart from the blues. Steig and Zeitlin used it for two of the most exhilarating rides anyone since Charlie Parker had taken on “Rhythm” changes.
For fifty years, Columbia let Flute Fever languish unissued in its vaults. Presumably with Columbia’s approval, In 2013, a company called International Phonograph, Inc. remastered it with high quality sound and reissued the album on CD. Steig and Zeitlin went on to extensive achievement, but Flute Fever remains a high point in their discographies.
For a comprehensive summary of Jeremy Steig’s career, see his obituary by Peter Keepnews in The New York Times.